Liverpool continued their Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde performances by following up their 3-1 loss to Leicester City with a comfortable win over Arsenal at Anfield on Saturday evening.
The Reds knew a win was a necessity if they were to stay in touching distance with their top four rivals and they duly delivered. Arsenal, without both Alexis Sánchez and Mesut Özil, were outclassed, outfought and tactically outmanoeuvred.
Goals from Roberto Firmino, Sadio Mané and Gini Wijnaldum meant Danny Welbeck's second half strike was nothing more than a consolation.
A lot of the post-match talk has been centred around just how good Adam Lallana was for the home side and why Arsène Wenger opted to start top scorer Sánchez on the substitute bench.
The Frenchman defended his decision to not start the Chilean by revealing his thought process “The thinking was that we had to go more direct and I wanted to play two players strong in the air because we decided to go more direct.”
The more direct approach helped Leicester triumph over Klopp's men but the Foxes exploited Liverpool's high line with the pace of Jamie Vardy and not his aerial presence. Bypassing the Liverpool press with long balls is one way to nullify it. The two players Wenger is referring to are Danny Welbeck, who won 40 per cent of his aerial duels, and Olivier Giroud, who won just the 33 per cent.
The problem was that the Gunners didn't ever look in control of these long balls and more often than not they arrived after being pressed by the home side. It wasn't a choice but more based around survival. They could either lose the ball in their defensive third or lose it in their attacking one, it was their choice.
Lallana was key to driving Arsenal back time and time again. Jürgen Klopp was full of praise for his centre-midfielder.
“When we are compact, it is really nice to have Adam because he jumps out of compact formations and triggers the pressure or sets the tone.
“The problem is in a few games when we have not been compact and Adam does the same, he opens a gap for the opponent, then it’s a one-on-one in a big area. Stability is the base for everything and we wanted to be stable.
“We worked really well in these parts together and Adam, it is nice to have him in this role.”
As the German rightly points out, the former Southampton man sets the tone but it was a very much a team effort in the victory over the North London side.
The Liverpool Press
In the picture above you see Granit Xhaka playing the ball backwards under pressure from Emre Can. He's forced to go all the way back to the deepest centre-back for various reasons. Firstly, the Liverpool's German midfield is snapping at his heels meaning the Arsenal midfielder is unable to turn on the ball.
Secondly, look at the positioning of the Liverpool players. There's no risk free pass on for Xhaka and the home side are perfectly poised to counter if they regain possession in the middle third.
Just six seconds has passed since the initial picture and play has progressed to the above. Arsenal go from being just inside of the Liverpool half to being forced to play the ball back to Petr Cech after being pressed backwards. The Arsenal ‘keeper would go long, there would be a turnover in possession and the Reds would have their attackers in dangerous areas well within the opposition's half with a chance to counter.
A ricochet gives Francis Coquelin a chance to thread a ball through to the Arsenal man just ahead of Can. However, the defensively minded midfielder dithers on the ball and this allows Philippe Coutinho the opportunity to press the Frenchman and cut the pass off.
Coquelin ends up playing the ball all the way back to his centre-back, Laurent Koscielny and Liverpool are once again able to set themselves up defensively with men behind the ball.
The Reds physically drove Wenger's men backwards by cutting off passing lanes, shutting down the space around players and intelligently pressing them as you can see in the picture below.
It's been 10 seconds since Coquelin played the ball backwards and Arsenal still haven't managed to set up a basecamp in the Liverpool half despite retaining possession.
In the picture above Firmino is forcing Shkodran Mustafi to play the pass to Hector Bellerin because of how the Brazilian is coming in to press the German. He's coming in from the side which blocks off the pass meaning the former Everton player has to either pass to his right-back or all the way back to his ‘keeper.
Before the pass even reaches the Spanish full-back, Coutinho is on his bike and getting across to cover the ground. The Arsenal man plays the ball back to Mustafi and this phase of play ends with Liverpool centre-back Ragnar Klavan picking up a loose ball.
Arsenal kept the ball well in defence when under pressure but they weren't able to progress play because of the well organised, well disciplined Liverpool press.
More often than not to break the defensive lines and a press you need your attacking players to be the ones to open up space for others to exploit.
Alex Iwobi does this in the picture above by dropping from an attacking position to pick the ball up off Mustafi. But again, Liverpool don't give him chance to settle on the ball and he's forced to play the ball back towards his own goal under pressure. It means the space he created isn't utilised.
The press from the home side disrupted Wenger's men and led to them being disjointed. They were more direct but they weren't able to make the most of Giroud and Welbeck's aerial presence because they were feeding off scraps. There's a difference between having the pair attack dangerous crosses into the penalty area and having them attempt to flick-on Cech goalkicks.
It made defending against them predictable and played a part in the Reds being able to control the game for the most part. It was a monumental team effort to protect what has looked like a questionable defence as of late.